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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Into the Wild at The Woodrack Cafe

Antlers are gorgeous. I state this not because I’ve spent the better part of 12 years studying caribou, but because they are beautiful paradoxes of delicacy and strength. My own collection of “sheds” (i.e., antlers you find lying on the ground after they’ve been shed) is lined up neatly on my balcony. However, the subjective nature of outdoor-themed décor can rear its ugly and petty head without warning. Case in point: I received a snide letter from my condo board insisting that I remove the “animal parts” from my deck immediately, because “deer horns” were expressly forbidden…and then they quoted some obscure bylaw.

[Cue rubbing of temples here.]

Where do I even begin. “Animal parts” implied that I had a fly-ridden carcass tied to the railing and, furthermore, deer do not have horns! True, antlers as decorative items can quickly devolve into a garish, testosterone-steeped, mountain-man fantasy like Cabela’s. Or, they can be quirky and classy companions to a fine latte, like at The Woodrack Cafe.

The Woodrack Café fills a much needed void in Edmonton’s coffee scene, creating connectivity between Whyte Ave’s caffeine-fueld hoopla and the south side’s Italian Centre Shop and D’Amore’s Mercato. Outwardly, Woodrack finds its home in a shiny professional building, but that quickly gives way to a serene wood-beamed room that reimagines Alberta’s wilderness identity indoors. The owners’ respect for the natural world is apparent and admirable. Driftwood art adorns the wall, painted antlers dangle from the ceiling, and ceramic mugs keep vintage books company on a multiplicity of shelves.

The bounty of Woodrack’s open kitchen appears in a tantalizing glass cooler. Whoopee Pies abound. These were once thought to displace cupcakes as treat du jour, but I am glad that they did not. Such stratospheric popularity invariably breeds an inferior product. Woodrack’s baked goods are anything but. A jalapeno cheddar Whoopee Pie is an ecstatic, edible wake-up call, while a slice of strawberry basil loaf is fragrant, moist, and generously flecked with berries and herbs that sing of long-ago summer.  The kitchen’s adventurous streak also appears in the guise of baked hybrids like duffins (a doughnut x muffin creation) and brookies (the love child of a brownie and a cookie). All of these are washed down with a bold yet milky latte that chases away any residual late-autumn chills.

Sitting at The Woodrack Café feels more like nestling into a soft couch at your best friend’s cabin in the woods than experiencing the sensory overload of a pedantic urban coffee shop. Such respite is welcome and reassuring in our urban fray. Lip-smacking baked goods and well-pulled espresso complete the circuit of edible and psychological solace, and the antlers are a bonus. And yes, my antler collection remains defiant on my balcony.

Woodrack Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Canada's 100 Best Restaurants - Rostizado by Tres Carnales

“Los Tres” have captured lightning in a bottle. Their firstborn, Tres Carnales, captured hearts and stomachs nationwide not long after it took its first, nascent steps into Canada’s culinary realm. Rostizado, the second-born but equally talented sibling, secured a spot in Macleans magazine’s “Canada’s 100 Best” and was a contender for EnRoute Magazine’s “Best New Restaurants of 2015.” Closer to home, one is hard-pressed to find an evening where Rostizado’s chairs are empty. Instead, the animated conversations of diners undulate with streams of modern jazz, Latin funk, and flashes of flame from the open kitchen. Fairy light-trimmed construction cranes swivel outside and hint of incipient change, and one cannot help but wonder how much more boisterous Rostizado could possibly be once the nearby Ice District is complete.

I’ve no doubt that Rostizado would surf its perfect wave irrespective of outside forces, for the original Tres – Dani, Chris, and Edgar – have crafted a menu of victuals that handily challenges long-standing presumptions of what constitutes Mexican food. Who knew that rotisserie chicken was so popular south of the border, or that a skillet of melted cheese could be so noble? The entire menu confirms that everything shilled by the bygone Chihuahua of dubious fast food is wrong. Today, Rostizado launches a new menu. Queso Fundido is a cheese-lover’s fantasy come through. Melted mozza and Monterey Jack hold together spicy chorizo and toothsome roasted potatoes. House-made flour tortillas are as flaky as pie pastry, but far more flexible. Lively white sangria washes everything down quite nicely.

Scallops Aguachile (upper right) look deceptively airy and cool, but pack an assertive punch thanks to a sprinkle of diced habanero chilies, reined in by slices of crisp jicama and supple scallop. Pancita y Almejas (lower right) riffs on a traditionally Portuguese dish by punching up steamed clams with Serrano chilies and unctuous pork belly. Camarones al Mojo de Ajo (left) tosses buxom prawns with caramelized garlic; the entire works are nudged into the stratosphere by a few squeezes of charred lime.

Sope de Rajas (lower right) repurposes a French quiche with Mesoamerican flair. With flavours reminiscent of Tres Carnales’ tacos rajas con crema, this masa-crusted creation cradles onions, kale, smoky poblano chilies, and cream. Costillas en Salsa Verde (lower left) are a welcome switch from the usual sugar-and-tomato oversauced ribs. Rostizado’s interpretation anoints, but does not smother, a hearty dose of baby back ribs with zesty salsa verde. Those who dig to the bottom of the plate are rewarded with a surprise helping of additional pork morsels. Vegetales Rostizados (top), for those who prefer protein from a non-animal source (or for those who need an excuse to eat their veggies), presents a tumble of zucchini, mushrooms, garbanzo beans and onions with a ribbon of Sikil Pak – the Mayan answer to hummus. 

Rotisserie beef (bottom) joins menu mainstays Rosti-Puerco and Rosti-Pollo, completing the protein trifecta. Served with a traffic light of salsas and potatoes (upper left) so divinely crispy that they could be a dish of their own, the just-medium rare flesh lounges in its own drippings and veritably begs to be eaten. Pastel de Tres Leches (upper right) is worth the gustatory marathon. The “three milks” (i.e., cream, evaporated, and condensed milk) that permeate this golden sponge cake render it irrevocably moist, rich and beguiling. Rostizado sweetens an already done deal by topping this quintessentially Latin dessert with corn ash whipped cream and macerated pineapple. 

Rostizado's captured lightning manifests as memorably delectable Latin dishes spun with an electric yet sophisticated atmosphere, all rendered approachable and human by the three owners' engaging personalities. None of it feels contrived, superficial, or merely paying lip service to whatever happens to be trendy. No, trends come and go and are as fickle as their sheep-like disciples. Talent, like that of Rostizado, is timeless.

Rostizado - By Tres Carnales Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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